This could be the last time an NBA game is played in Oklahoma City for a long time.
Local fans who have adopted the New Orleans Hornets as their own, however, hold out hope it will happen again later this month.
Even if the Hornets don’t sneak into the playoffs, they could give the Ford Center crowd a good send-off by beating the NBA’s hottest team on Friday in a matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Commissioner David Stern will be on hand for what will be the last regular-season game in Oklahoma City for quite some time. The Hornets (37-41), whose final three games are on the road, are expected to be back in New Orleans full-time next season following a two-year relocation project due to Hurricane Katrina.
This will be the 30th sellout in 71 games at Oklahoma City over the past two seasons.
“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional for a lot of our fans,” Mayor Mick Cornett said. “This has always been a temporary arrangement, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. This town has fallen in love with this team, and fallen in love with the NBA product in general.”
Though Stern puts Oklahoma City at the top of the list among cities that could be the next to get NBA teams, there is no expansion planned for the near future and no teams that appear ready to move from their current locations.
“I don’t have a team to send and I can’t tell you a date, but it’s my expectation that the NBA has not played its last game in Oklahoma City,” Stern said.
That leaves this game as the last meaningful one to be played in Oklahoma probably for at least the rest of this decade, unless the Hornets can move up the standings in the Western Conference playoff race.
New Orleans has kept its postseason hopes very much alive by winning five of its last six, including three in overtime. The Hornets improved to 7-0 in overtime with Wednesday’s 103-100 victory over the Clippers.
“We’re just going to keep fighting,” said David West, who had a season-high 33 points. “As long as we’ve got a heartbeat, we’re going to keep going.”
The team’s playoff push is all the more impressive considering the injuries it’s had to overcome.
Leading rebounder Tyson Chandler has sat out the last three games with an injured toe and is day-to-day. Starting guard Desmond Mason had surgery for a broken nose and will sit out at least the rest of the regular season, as is likely to be the case for three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic, who recently suffered a setback during his rehab from back surgery.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Chris Paul, however, appears to be back at full strength, recording consecutive double-doubles after missing one game with a foot injury.
As impressive as the Hornets’ recent run has been, it’s not as good as what the Nuggets (42-36) have strung together. They’ve gone 7-0 this month after losing five of six to close March, and clinched a playoff berth Wednesday with a 115-106 victory at Utah.
The Nuggets can finish no better than sixth in the West, forcing them to face one of the conference’s top three teams in the opening round, but it appears they will carry plenty of momentum into the playoffs.
“It’s a situation where we know we’re dangerous and we have a lot of weapons and we continue to keep our composure and have some mental toughness in the fourth quarter,” Denver coach George Karl said.
A victory Friday would give the Nuggets their longest winning streak since winning 10 straight from March 30-April 15, 2005.
Carmelo Anthony had 32 points Wednesday, scoring at least 30 for the second straight game and sixth time in eight games.